When he flew to Nepal to attempt the ascent of Mount Everest (8,848 meters), the Norwegian Erlend Ness did not imagine that he would mark the Himalayan chronicle in such an unusual way. It is, in fact, neither the terrible cascade of ice with unfathomable crevasses, nor the avalanches caused by the unusual snowfall – due to the passage of two cyclones – that deprived him of his Grail, but the Covid-19.
On April 14, barely arrived on foot from the tiny Lukla airport (2,860 meters) to the base camp (EBC) at 5,345 meters above sea level, after a short week of trekking through the valley du Khumbu, the 57-year-old real estate agency owner became the first contender for the top of the “Roof of the World” evacuated by helicopter because of the virus.
“Who could have predicted that, when the authorities were only talking about a few dozen cases in Kathmandu and encouraging us to come, with a negative PCR test before departure and one upon arrival? “, he asks from his home in Trondheim, where he recovers “ pretty good “ after hospitalization costing several thousand dollars in Kathmandu.
A giant cluster in power
Landlocked between China – which this year banned its Tibetan side of Everest from mountaineers – and India – which has experienced a terrible resurgence of the pandemic since the beginning of March – Nepal seemed to have succeeded in containing the wave of Covid-19 of 2020 by closing its borders and its mountains.
But very few tests were carried out there and the enormous shortfall, for this country very dependent on tourism, pushed its government to take a risky bet aimed at perking up the hotel industry and the expedition business this year.
He relaxed his health protocol which originally included a mandatory seven-day quarantine. The “mountains” department of the Ministry of Tourism, which manages access to Nepalese peaks over 7,000 meters, issued for Everest the record number of 408 climbing permits at 11,000 dollars each (approximately 9,000 euros ) to foreign climbers, divided into 43 teams. In addition, there are around 150 cheaper permits, spread over the neighboring Lhotse (8,516 meters), Nuptse (7,861 meters) and Pumori (7,161 meters).
With guides and logistics staff, nearly 2,000 people have takes up residence at the EBC from mid-March to mid-May. “The Hill” (nickname for the base camp) has evolved into a giant cluster in power, at a time when Nepalese cities and their hospitals, overloaded and destitute, called on the whole world to be supplied with oxygen.
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